Monday, June 27, 2011

Don't take candy from strangers

Over a decade ago, I wrote fanfic for a small online fandom. Fan-fiction, for me, was a fantastic outlet in which to put out stories I could never get published for obvious reasons, therefore no concern over plagiarism. It was also a great way to receive a steady flow of criticism and insight from a small group of writers. I was a member of this fandom for about two years, spanning the ages between fourteen and sixteen. When I was fifteen or so, a new member joined our happy home. Let’s call her Mrs. Lecter.

At first, Mrs. Lecter was the ideal mentor for a young, budding author. She befriended me, read over my work, offered her advice and commented on what she liked. We exchanged phone numbers—foolish as it was at my age—and developed a fast and seemingly normal relationship. She wasn’t the only writer friend I communicated with via phone, but she was the one who called most frequently.

A few months into our correspondence, Mrs. Lecter became pregnant. The entire fan-fiction community was tremendously excited. This wasn’t a large fandom like Star Wars or Harry Potter; it was an isolated group of maybe twenty regular writers. Everyone knew everyone. Therefore when Mrs. Lecter lost her child, the entire community mourned with her. We shut down operations completely, poured sympathy and money together and bought her flowers, cards, and other things people do when someone they care about is in pain.

Things changed a lot after that.

It’s been several years and many of the details have grown a little fuzzy. Mrs. Lecter became an endless pit of tragedy. More than that, she started establishing “rules” on when people could post their fiction (which typically revolved around when she wasn’t posting her fiction, of which everyone was tacitly obligated to praise). Her family was also rattled by illness, car accidents, hospital visits, deaths, and one more miscarried child. She was one of those people who became addicted to attention, and therefore invented horror after horror so we would shower her with sympathy. That was, of course, when we didn’t incur her wrath for breaking one of the unspoken rules about posting our work. In the end, I’m not sure what was real and what wasn’t. Did that first child even exist? If it did, did losing it send her so far off the deep end that everything that followed was her way of coping with her grief?

I don’t know. After a while, I stopped caring. She had effectively used every last drop of compassion from me, and taken my writing haven and turned it into a prison. Mrs. Lecter was the first in a very important lesson, and to get to the point, more or less, here it goes: over the internet, you can’t accept at face value that people are who they say they are. We’ve discussed the value of beta readers and crit partners several times on Romancing the Muses, but a recent conversation on an email loop brought to light something that truly cannot be overstated.

Don’t trust everyone you meet on the internet. No matter what.

I know what you’re thinking: well, duh! Even if you hadn’t had an experience like mine, anyone who has ever tuned into ‘To Catch A Predator’ with Chris Hanson knows this much, right? Online, people can be whoever they want to be. Heck, that’s part of the appeal. Still, and I cannot stress this enough, just because you’re honest doesn’t mean everyone is. And yes, this might come across as a “do’h, I knew that!” but if you’re anything like me, you have a predisposition to believe that most people aren’t jackasses. And true, most people aren’t. But if you aren’t careful, you’re likely going to end up feeling a world of hurt.

Sadly, this isn’t limited to the internet. Anyone who has driven home during rush hour knows there are plenty of jackasses in real life as well. Be discriminatory with whom you choose to share your work, and who you let into your life. Most people are honest, but those who aren’t will do everything they can to convince you they are. And if they’re anything like Mrs. Lecter, they’ll milk it for all it’s worth.

4 comments:

Cari Silverwood said...

Great little post. I just read your Star Wars one too. I still cling to my adulation of Star Wars :)
Off to read those linked posts.

Sharon said...

all is true. I warn my girls about it all the time, but I am sure at some point down the line they will get suckered into something. Sorry about your experience. I have been lucky and haven't run into this type of thing. If anything sets my spidey senses tingling I back away.

Rosalie Stanton said...

@Cari - I think my relationship with Star Wars became one of an abusive spouse. By the time the third one came around, I knew it'd be painful, but I clung to the hope Lucas wouldn't make it urt so bad this time.

@Sharon - With me, I knew not to go into chatrooms. I thought a writing community was innocuous. And for the most part, it is. What I went through was an emotional roller-coaster, and the anonymity of the Internet makes it easy for people to use and abuse in a multitude of ways. Just tell your girls that if something sounds too wild to be true, chances are it is. If someone seems to have the worst luck, they probably don't. If they seem to have the best, they probably don't. ;)

J.A. Saare said...

Rosalie,

God, this is so spot on. I'm so careful about who I talk to and trust now. You have to be. If you want to protect yourself, you have to look out for yourself.

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